MLB.com Columnist

Joe Posnanski

All-Star fan vote has storied history

All-Star fan vote has storied history

OK, so this was originally going to be about Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado, who are having a crazy close, count-the-chads photo finish for the starting third-baseman spot in the 88th All-Star Game presented by Mastercard. At last check, Bryant was 50-some thousand votes ahead of Arenado in the Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballot, a lead which can be overturned in a matter of minutes.

Bryant is a fantastic player, a great hitter, a great athlete, last year's NL MVP Award winner -- a player who is almost singlehandedly keeping the Cubs from an all-out first-half collapse.

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Arenado is a fantastic player, a breathtaking defender, the NL leader in home runs and RBIs in 2015 and '16 -- a force in Colorado's surprising start.

This is exactly the sort of impossible choice that make the All-Star Game balloting so wonderful. It is why having fans vote is such a brilliant idea. And then, I fell into a rabbit hole trying to figure out: How did that start anyway?

The answer was more difficult to find than I expected. There has been some kind of fan participation since the first All-Star Game in 1933 -- but it was limited. The Sporting News printed an All-Star Game ballot every week and asked people to mail it in. But that was mostly for show; the teams were picked by the managers. Sure, the managers were supposed to take the fan vote into consideration. They did pick a well-past-his-prime Babe Ruth the first two years.

Midsummer Classics: 1933

Anyway, it was like that for a long time, with fans voting in various polls and their votes not really counting.

In 1947, the Chicago Tribune's powerful sports editor Arch Ward -- who created the All-Star Game, as well as the Golden Gloves boxing tournament and the All-American Football Conference -- created a real All-Star ballot, where the fans' choices would start the game and play at least three innings. He had the ballot placed in 192 newspapers around the country as well as The Sporting News. More than two million people voted.

Joe DiMaggio got the most votes, and he got the first hit in the game.

The idea of the fans voting was pretty controversial. Managers despised it. Yankees skipper Casey Stengel grumbled incessantly about it.

"It's a fine thing to permit the fans to take part in the balloting," he said. "But it's wrong to tell the manager of the All-Star team that he must start those eight."

There was going to be a fight … and it came in 1950. That year, the fans voted Chicago Cubs outfielder Hank Sauer to start his first All-Star Game. NL manager Burt Shotton announced that he would instead be starting his own Brooklyn Dodgers guy, Duke Snider.

Shotton had a fair point -- the fans had chosen two pretty terrible left fielders in Sauer and Pittsburgh's Ralph Kiner. Shotton did not have a center fielder to play. It was -- to use 1950s words -- a rhubarb, a pickle, a fine mess.

"We [darn] well want to win this game," Shotton muttered to reporters. "But the fans gave me two left fielders … Can you imagine Sauer as a center fielder?"

Shotton insisted that the NL president himself, Ford C.Frick, had personally given his permission to replace Sauer with an actual center fielder.

And at first, the powers of baseball sided with Shotton. Frick probably had told him it was OK to shift things around. It looked like Snider would start and the fans' vote would be nullified. But then Cubs manager Frankie Frisch went crazy.

Duke hits two against the Yanks

"This was a deep insult to a young fellow who has played hard and given his best efforts in all games," Frisch said. And then he got personal, bringing up Snider's .143 average in the 1949 World Series.

"That Snider certainly looked wonderful in last year's World Series," Frisch mocked. "He couldn't hit the ball past the pitcher."

Old baseball fights are the best baseball fights.

Ward got involved, too, saying that the fans' voices had to be heard. When the pressure heated up, Commissioner Happy Chandler announced Sauer would start the game.

"Baseball committed itself to play the men chosen by the fans," he said. "It is the only proper thing to do."

And that's when the All-Star Game became the fans' game, when we were given the freedom to choose any player we wanted for any reason we wanted, given the power to choose Arenado or Bryant.

Personally, I'm taking Arenado, just because I want to see him make one of those ridiculous plays. But the choice is all of ours.

Joe Posnanski is an executive columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.